I didn't want to feel like a foreigner in the city that used to feel like a second home to me, so I headed straight for my favorite beef noodle soup stall in Taipei... to eat and be amongst the locals... and to somehow find my Taiwanese mojo. Along the way to the noodle stall, I noticed that the potsticker shop that I used to frequent had since been closed... but no worries, Old Chao's Noodles (老趙刀切麵) was right where I had last seen it.
Everything was just as I had remembered. There was the assembly line of noodle production... meat sauce and sliced cucumbers for zhajiang noodles (炸醬麵), diced green onions, roasted beef tendon, cuts of braised beef, and a boiling vat of beef broth... all in steel containers on the counter. And the makeshift condiment station had the pickled mustard greens and extra green onions for those who need it... in same location as before.
Old Chao and Chao Jr. stood at the stall. Mr. Chao, wearing bright blue board shorts, was stirring the boiling pot of noodles. Young Mr. Chao silently took orders just as his father used to. A nod of his head and a stare in my direction was his way of asking me what I want to order. He spoke only to clarify whether the noodles will be eaten here or taken to-go.
And that's when I noticed the one aspect that has changed since the last time I visited. The price. A bowl of beef noodle soup used to be just 40 Taiwan dollars, which was just a little over one US dollar back then. That same bowl of noodle soup is now 100 Taiwan dollars, which is a little over three US dollars. I was surprised when I handed Mr. Chao a 100 NT note, and I didn't get any change back. He looked back at me, and his silence asked, "What are you waiting for?"
Nothing, I guess.
If you hadn't gotten the picture from before, let me repaint the picture. This is a serious beef noodle soup stall. The noodle bowls are washed on the curb between the stand and the street, and needless to say, the bowls aren't exactly towel dried. Never mind the potential hepatitis infection. Taste takes precedence here... not cleanliness. Around the stall there are two prop-up tables with stools scattered around them. Office workers in dress shirts, delivery boys with bike helmets, and complete strangers share the communal tables... and eat in silence. One in every ten customers is a woman. But the woman usually loses her patience and leaves for another stall with a shorter line.
I picked up my glorious bowl of identity crisis medication, and I plopped myself down on the metal stool barely supported my oversized American dexterior. In the 90 degree humid heat of Taipei, I devoured each strand of noodle one of bite at a time. A bead of sweat dripped down my forehead with each strand of noodle consumed... and with each strand of noodle consumed I felt increasingly reacquainted with the land of my parents' birth.
Comforted with this feeling, I gazed upon the hustle and bustle of the noodle stall. Mama Chao appears from nowhere and begins bussing the twin tables, with chili oil still dripping from a previous customer's used chopsticks. Young Chao, who looks like he's in his thirties, helps his father pour freshly brewed beef broth from a large kettle into an even larger vat... all while smoking a cigarette and talking on his cell phone. Then he tends to customers who want a second helping of beef soup... free for those who still have noodles left in their bowls. By the way... the large vat of beef soup? Yeah, it could totally swallow Mr. Chao alive.
The waft of brewing, beef broth drifts my way and cuts through not only the thick humidity but the exhaust from otobai that speed past the noodle stall as well. Deep breath. Ahhh... the smell... the smell of freshly sheared noodles sinking into boiling water. Ahhh... here in Taipei, food reigns over weather and pollution.The last time I wrote about a piping hot bowl of beef noodle soup, it was perfect for a rainy, winter day. Ironically, I was enjoying this same steaming bowl of beef noodle soup in the hot summer heat... but it was just as exhilarating as ever. The true exhilaration, though, was the feeling that I could declare to the city, "Taipei, I have returned."
Until the next bowl of beef noodle soup, let's all get S.O.F.A.T.
台北市 大安區/ Taipei City, Da An District
信義路 4段 60之56 號/ Xin Yi Road, Section 4, No. 60-56
How I get there:
MRT: Da An Station (捷運大安站)
exit station; walk two blocks east towards Taipei 101
make a right at Da An Road, Section 2 (大安路 2段)
pass the stall for hand made egg rolls
do not pass the stall with fresh fruit and shaved ice
ML - 20110908